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The problem with Foxtel’s call for NBN copyright cops

Destroy the network to save the content

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Kim Williams of Foxtel has become the latest high-profile executive to demonstrate a complete misapprehension of what the NBN is.

As reported here yesterday, Williams wants the National Broadband Network to become a “model” in its approach to piracy.

Because he doesn’t understand the aims of the network, its architecture, or the separation between wholesaler (NBN Co) and retailer (ISPs and others), Williams doesn’t understand what he’s really asking for. Complying with his demands would require three things – a complete re-architecture of the network; an abandonment of retailers’ control of their customers’ traffic; and a snooping regime far beyond what’s proposed by ASIO to try and avoid the risk that Anonymous might DoS our air traffic control system.

First, the architectural implications. With the minor exception of the “little bit” of Layer 3 related to multicast services, the NBN is a wholesale network designed to be content-agnostic. The NBN knows that I’m a customer of Telstra, Optus, TPG or iiNet – because it has to deliver my traffic to the appropriate RSP. That’s all.

The NBN doesn’t know what happens after the traffic is handed off to the retailer. The retailer routes the traffic I originate and puts me in touch with the servers I want to download content from.

To somehow make the NBN a copyright cop – ordering it to somehow prevent people from touching a Torrent or whatever – requires that the NBN have much more Layer 3 capabilities in its design.

This leads to the second problem: it’s not the wholesaler’s job to control its retail customers’ traffic. Williams doesn’t understand that the consumer – Richard in the inner west, Joe Sixpack in McMansionville, or the farmer in Booligal – is not an NBN customer. We’ll be signed on with retailers (some of which, one day, might be pay TV companies, either because Foxtel realizes it’s a good idea, or because someone else launches an NBN-connected pay TV operation).

What Willias is asking for is a wholesaler that has the technical and contractual power to say to (for example) Telstra: “You’re not allowed to carry this traffic”.

And – the third problem – the only way this can happen is if the NBN is, as we’ve had put from the Lunar Right end of its opponents, established as an aggregated snooping system over all of Australia’s communications.

Williams told the movie convention that “73 percent say they would stop if that notification came with a threat”. Of course, there’s also plenty of research suggesting that punters pay for legal offerings if they’re easy and affordable.

Which is probably one reason Apple is the 900-pound gorilla and his big brother, and big-content is increasingly an iTunes protectorate. ®

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